An excerpt from SHADOW LINES

Shadow Lines

Nick Petters withdrew a cell phone and flipped it open to reveal a miniature screen before hesitating. “Are we working together or not? I think we can help each other, but we’re going to have to trust each other to share information.”

I released a frosty breath. “Work together?”

“I know your director’s just given you carte blanche to track down the source. If he told me once, he told me a thousand times you were the best Flu Hunter he’s ever had.”

I didn’t recall any occasions where Nick and the Centre’s director would have engaged in social conversation. Our schedules hadn’t been conducive to normal dating over the year our affair lasted. After all, I’d been based in Stockholm while Nick had been working hard on his fledgling agency.

The times we had managed together had been spent in heated sex... in bed...or in the the kitchen... Nick had never minded exercising his healthy appetite wherever the mood had struck him.

Not that I hadn’t done the same. Aware that the flush I felt spreading across my face had nothing to do with the cold, I cleared my throat. “I didn’t know you and Frederic were such speaking buddies.”

Nick’s smile was savage. “Only when it came to you.”

Great, locker room talk. “What did you two discuss about me?” I demanded in a frigid tone. I swore if it was about our sex life, I was going to bean Nick over the head with the canister.

“Let’s just say Frederic’s extremely possessive of you, whether professionally, personally or both.” Nick shrugged. “However, I was not about to let him stand between us.”

Was there a compliment wrapped up in that remark? I opened my mouth and then snapped it close. Best not to go out on the fragile branch of our past relationship.

“Frederic interested in me? Don’t be ridiculous. We’re simply work colleagues.”

“Really? I vividly recall a conversation where Frederic brought up the topic of my being Catholic and from a large family. He proceeded to point out that between your bugs and my thugs it was no kind of environment suitable for raising children. He suggested that I might be happier with someone living a more normal life.”

My God. Frederic had made a similar comment to me when I’d been leaving for a weekend visit with Nick. How was I going to handle Nick’s desire for a large family? From then on I had obsessed about Nick wanting children to the point that all the joy in my being with him had been destroyed.

When you’re out in the field during an outbreak, your co-workers become your family, confidences are exchanged. Perhaps too many. Clearly, the ever astute Frederic had pushed a few relationship buttons. I was going to have a little heart-to-heart talk with him upon my return.

Meanwhile, Nick was right. Working together was logical. With his security connections, he would have very useful resources.

“I can handle working together if you can,” I said to Nick. “But won’t your client object?”

“No, since I already cleared it with Janssen Pharmaceutical.”

“You what?”

“I knew you wouldn’t rest until you tracked the source of the outbreak. Given your reputation and Janssen’s need to retrieve the stolen formula, it was a natural marriage of interests. I suspect Janssen’s already clearing matters with Frederic.”

I huffed a frosty breath but he was right. I would do anything to hunt down the virus.

Holding up his phone to the cylinder, he explained, “I’ll send the logo image back to my staff to research and come up with a name.”

He made a motion with his free hand. “What about the glider you had? Can you ditch it? The courier would have either headed into Yverdon-les-Bains or Geneva.”

“Or Bern or Lausanne. They all are travel hubs,” I pointed out. “I’ll call and let the owner know where the glider can be picked up.” In order to get better reception, I walked into the center of the stone circle.
Everything around me blurred. Death was...

Everywhere. Once the land of enlightenment, Languedoc now lay ravaged by war. Pope Innocent III’s bitter crusade against the usurper religion Catharism not only was wiping out entire towns, but also prosperity for ages to come: torches set to people and the fields alike while barbaric rulers replaced the educated Counts of Toulouse.

Slowly but inevitably, the language of culture –Occitan— was being silenced. No more poetry, no more songs, no more texts.

The Age of the Troubadour was over.

The healer stood on one of her beloved foothills in Southern France. She despaired of ever seeing again the greening of the laurel. The sliver of moon overhead cast the barest of light over the dark landscape, but she only dared to venture out from the cave she called home at night while the warriors slept.

Because of her calling, she forsook living with her sisterhood for fear that her work would lead to discovery of their secret meeting place. She didn’t see the others like her, not nearly enough. Sometimes the feeling of aloneness nearly crushed her heart. However, since the apprentice had come to her to learn the ways of healing, she no longer felt so isolated. Her joy in company overrode her concern that the apprentice did not have the inner strength to endure the demands of healing.

No matter. She mustn’t linger here. She needed to replenish her precious supplies of herbs and the red earth of Languedoc. When the proper amount of cave fed water was added to the dirt, the mud contained amazing healing properties.

So many wounded to tend, so many ill from famine and illnesses. She couldn’t save them all, but how could she say no to even one in need?

Spying the silhouette of a familiar plant ahead, she hurried forward. A muffled sound brought her to a halt, her heart beating with alarm. Had one of the crusaders ignored superstition of being about at night and prowled, looking for Cathars in hiding or even worse, the Marians?

With all her senses on alert, she strained to hear even the slightest sounds on the wind. There it was again, to her right. As she had spent her entire life in these hills, she knew the terrain. Carefully, she climbed higher and then circled around. Crouching behind a boulder, the healer studied the shadows below.

Behind a bush something moved: a man’s leg. She circled until she had an unobstructed view. A man lay curled on his side, huddled against the night’s chill. Whenever he shifted, he moaned as if in pain.

The healer sat back on her heels. Another wounded knight, possibly titled by the quality of his clothes. However, he wore no colors to announce his allegiance. Clever man, she decided. No one could tell if he warred on the side of the Pope or the Cathars. When he moved again, she saw the glint of metal.

A very clever and determined man. The enemy would have to draw near enough to check him out, allowing him a chance to deal a mortal blow with his knife.

Then he called out in his delirium. Italian. Sacre dieu. He was a warrior for the Catholic Church, who not only sought to eliminate the Cathari but also those who followed the Goddess.

The healer wiped her sweaty palms on the folds of her skirt. She should leave him here to die. Why should she save one who sought to destroy her sisters?

He called out again. “Oh God, help me!”

She pressed her forehead against her knees. Pain was a language that transcended all races and religions. He could be too wounded even for her skills. He would be no longer any danger to anyone if he died, but she could make his passing easier. If he lived, surely he would be grateful to the one who saved him. Redemption began with an act of kindness, didn’t it? Didn’t she believe that by healing a person she could help to heal the land?

Her grotto wasn’t far from here. He wouldn’t be able to find the hidden passage to the temple and the mosaic the sisterhood guarded. She would make sure her apprentice understood the importance of secrecy.

She took a step forward...


The report of a gun being fired echoed in my ears. Bark on a tree not ten feet from me exploded.

Guns? Shouldn’t there be swords and daggers? Where was I?

© 2006 Carol Stephenson


Carol's Books
Latest News
Fun Stuff
Favorite Links
Email Carol
Carol's Facebook
Twitter Carol

©2010 Carol Stephenson
Napa Valley photograph by Carol Stephenson
Website design by Designs by Delaney

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.